Recommended Embroidery Books and Other Sources

Sorcha Valdimarsdottir

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Sorsha wrote this article while pursuing her library science degree. She cross-referenced three different annotated bibliographies to create this article. Her entire project is shown here because it shows some valuable steps in evaluating the usefulness and accuracy of a particular source.

The table outline shown below is very helpful and it is linked to each section of Sorcha's project. The title of each subsection will bring the reader back to this point.

Most Recommended Embroidery Books and Other Sources

Section 1: Subject
Section 2: Type

Section 3: Materials

Books: [Selection Aids or Criteria] [The Whys and Wherefores of Book Selection Criteria] [Books Selected]

Serials: [ Selection Aids or Criteria] [ The Whys and Wherefores of Serial Selection Criteria ] [ Serials Selected ]

Website s : [Selection Aids or Criteria] [ The Whys and Wherefores of Website Selection Criteria and the Websites ]

Other Resources : [ Selection Aids or Criteria ] [ The Whys and Wherefores of Other Resource Selection Criteria and the Selected Resources ]

Section 4: Total Cost
Section 5: Subject Headings
Section 6: Index

Section 1: Subject

Historical embroidery (types of embroidery that existed in years past and of which examples still exist. Some books deal with techniques of historical embroidery, while some discuss extant examples)

Section 2: Type of Library, Collection, and Target Audience

Type of Library: Public
Type of Collection: Craft books
Target Audience: Members of embroidery Guilds or hobbyists interested in historical embroidery.

There are a number of embroidery guilds in the United States. The one in Baton Rouge is quite active in the library. They have meetings there, organize displays, and teach classes at the library. There are also quite a number of recreation groups whose members have a keen interest in embroidery from their particular historical time period, whatever that might be. I found a public library online, the Calcasieu Parish Public Library, that had a good selection of embroidery books, but that was lacking somewhat in the area of historical embroidery. This library did have some books on the embroidery of different cultures and a few books on historical embroidery, indicating that a better collection of historical embroidery materials might be welcome.

Section 3: Materials Selected


Selection Aids:

Books on historical embroidery are rarely reviewed in the press, so I had to turn to a different source for information. Subject experts are the most useful selection aids in this particular instance, subject experts being individuals or groups who are considered to be particularly knowledgeable in some specific area. The historical embroidery subjects experts tend to be hobbyists who have devoted a great deal of time and effort to researching embroidery from different time periods, as well as actually creating pieces of historical embroidery. Their breadth of knowledge and years of practical experience with embroidery make them well qualified to review various books and sources.

I am also somewhat of a subject expert: I have done research in this particular area and created several pieces of embroidery from historic sources. I used three subject experts: Mistress Clare, an embroidery expert who belongs to a medieval recreation group; “Auntie” Elspeth, also an embroidery expert from a medieval recreation group; and the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild, a group of historic embroiderers from the western United States. These three subject experts each have an annotated list of recommended embroidery books available on the Internet.

When I thought it was appropriate or necessary, I used my own judgment as a subject expert. Clare's Favorite Embroidery Books Elsepth Reviews Embroidery and Needlework Books The West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild Booklist -

The Whys and Wherefores of Selection

I looked at each list and noted the books that were recommended by all three subject experts. I did this in attempt to avoid personal biases on the part of the subject expert. Also, because I only get to choose 10 books out of the many that were on the recommended lists, I wanted to pick the best. I figured that books that were recommended by all three independent sources would be the cream of the crop and the most helpful to my patrons. I also noted the books that had been recommended by two of the subject experts, as an auxiliary list of books that might also be worth exploring. I came up with a list of thirteen books that were recommended by all three sources (the main list) and four books that were recommended by two sources (the auxiliary list).

I eliminated the one book, The Embroiderer's Story by Thomasina Beck, that was already a part of the Calcasieu Parish Library's collection. I decided that I wanted to include eight books from the main list and two books from the auxiliary list to create a hopefully balanced and informative collection. I wanted most of the books to come from the main list, which represent the most recommended books from the three subject experts, but I also wanted to include a few books from the auxiliary list so that I would't be missing out on valuable information.

When choosing books from the two lists, I gave special consideration to books that gave good overviews of historical embroidery in general or of a particular time and place, books that included extensive images of historic pieces, books that were mentioned as having extensive bibliographies, and books that I have seen mentioned repeatedly in various historical embroidery classes that I have taken.

Books Selected

Arnold, Janet. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd. Leeds: Maney, 1988. ISBN 0901286206

Bath, Virginia Churchill. Embroidery Masterworks; Classic Patterns and Techniques for Contemporary Application. Chicago: H. Regnery Co., 1972. ISBN Price: 43.95

Cavallo, Adolph. Needlework. New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 1979. ISBN 0910503346 Price: $5.40

Levey, Santina. Elizabethan Treasures: the Hardwick Hall Treasures. London: The National Trust, 1998. ISBN 0810963531 Price: $27.93

Saint-Aubin, Charles Germain de. Art of the Embroiderer. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1983.ISBN 0879234806 Price: $30.00

Schuette, Marie and Sigrid Muller- Christensen. A Pictorial History of Embroidery. New York: Praeger, 1964. ISBN
Price: $400 maximum—I was unable to find a price for this book, as it is rare and highly prized by embroiderers. To obtain a copy, I would contact a rare bookseller and have them track me down a copy.

Snook, Barbara. English Historical Embroidery. London: Batsford, 1960. ISBN Price: $40.00

Staniland, Kay. Embroiderers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. ISBN 0802069150 Price: $15.37

Swain, Margaret. The Needlework of Mary, Queen of Scots. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1973. ISBN 0442299621 Price: $19.95

Synge, Lanto. Antique Needlework. Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1982.ISBN Price: 24.95


Selection Aids:

One of my subject experts (Mistress Clare) reviewed serials. I used this as a starting point and explored the websites of the various publications to see if they had anything to offer to the historic embroiderer. While looking on the websites, I looked at the current issue to see there were any articles of interest and I searched the archives to see if there was any past coverage of subjects of interest to the historic embroiderer. I also tried the indexes to see what I could find. I searched the Art Full Text index with the phrase “historical embroidery”, which yielded no results, and then tried “ history of embroidery”, which yielded 24 results. I also did a search on the Internet with the Google search engine looking for publications of embroidery guilds.

The Whys and Wherefores of Selection

I wanted the serials that I selected to have regular features about historical embroidery of the history of embroidery. There were not many titles that met those qualifications, but I did find a few. The majority of the articles on historical embroidery that I found in the search of the Art Full Text index were from Piecework, a magazine that was also on the list from Mistress Clare. This seemed to be a strong indication that this would be valuable addition to my collection. I also read through several of the articles; they were informative and included bibliographies. The index search also yielded three articles from a magazine called Hali, a magazine that deal with carpets, textiles, and Islamic art. The three articles from Hali in the index included in-depth discussions of historical embroidery techniques or specific period pieces. The third periodical, STITCH, is the publication of UK Embroiderer's Guild. This publication has monthly articles on the history of embroidery and period stitches, images from the Embroiderer's Guild Museum Collection, and instructions for projects inspired by historic pieces. If there was a conflict between the price listed in the citation and the price listed on the magazine's website, I used the price listed on the magazine's website, as I would expect that to be the most current price. Prices that were listed on pounds were converted at the most recent exchange rate.

Serials Seleted

Piecework . Interweave Press, Inc. Six issues per year. ISSN 1067-2249 Price: $60 for a three year subscription, plus $214.30 for the backlog. I would acquire the backlog that Piecework has available on their website to make available the quality articles that they have published in the past. There is at least one article per issue that deal with historical embroidery. The total cost of acquiring the available backlog is $214.30

Hali. Hali Publications, Ltd. Six issues per year. ISSN 1067-2249 Price: $148.30 for a one-year subscription (95 British pounds). As much as I would like to have the complete backlog of Hali, it is VERY expensive. The first issue itself costs $1000, which I think is prohibitively expensive for a public library. I think that this is a valuable serial to have, but it is on the pricey side. If someone were interested in giving money specifically for the acquisition of past issues or donating back issues, I would jump on it, but I don't think that it would be practical to acquire the backlog to start off with.

STITCH with the Embroiderer's Guild. E.G. Enterprises. Six issues per year. Price: $30.90 for a one-year subscription, plus $60.86 for backlog. I would acquire the backlog that is available for this serial. Every issue has an article about a particular kind of historical embroidery and includes a project inspired by a period piece. I think that this would be a valuable addition to my collection. The cost of acquiring the available backlog is $60.86.


Selection Criteria

I established a list of criteria that I wanted my selected websites to meet.  These helped me decide which websites to make available with my collection.

The Whys and Wherefores of Selection

Clare's Medieval Embroidery Page -

This website was created by Mistress Clare, who is a historic embroiderer and one of my subject experts. She has been creating and teaching embroidery for more than 5 years. There is no advertising on her website, and she does not appear to have a bias that might affect the information that she offers. All of her information appears to be accurate and reliable—she offers bibliographies for all of her articles so that the information may be verified. The website was last updated in December of 2001; a hopping bunny symbol indicated items that have been added most recently. The website focuses on medieval embroidery, with an emphasis on counted work. Mistress Claire covers several kinds of counted work, including Assisi work, in depth. She has an excellent links list, which is divided into areas of interest for easy access. There are links to museum collections, articles, images of period embroideries, embroidery guilds, retail embroidery sites, other historic embroiderers'sites, and online stitch dictionaries. This website is also the home of Mistress Claire's annotated list of embroidery books, which is an excellent resource. She also has all of the articles which she has written on this site, each with a bibliography. There is a picture of each project accompanying the article. This website is well organized, with a hyperlinked indexes on several pages. There are only a few links that do not work. On the whole, this website is an excellent resource for the historic embroiderer.

Title: Clare's Medieval Embroidery Page
Creator: Mistress Clare de Estepa, (Katherine Stephenson)
Subject: Embroidery
Assisi Embroidery
Counted thread embroidery
Society for Creative Anachronisms
Description: A website devoted to historical embroidery, especially that of the medieval and Renaissance period. This websites included articles authored by the creator, an annotated bibliography of embroidery books, and links to other sites of interest to the historic embroiderer.
Publisher: Katherine Estep Stephenson
Date: 1999-.
Format: HTML
Language: English
Coverage: Medieval and Renaissance embroidery

The West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild -

This website was created by the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild, a group of historic embroiderers from the western United States. The group is dedicate to “ promoting the art and enjoyment of historical needlework, furthering our knowledge and developing our skills in different needlework styles, and to have fun doing it!” Members must complete set levels of accomplishment in needleworking skills in order to become a “needlemaster”. There is no advertising on this website, nor does it appear to have any bias that might affect the information offered. The website was last update May 2002, and new additions are noted. All of the links that I tried worked. The website includes information on the guild itself, pictures of members' projects, articles written by guild members, an annotated book list, and a comprehensive list of links that includes links to how-to sources, other needlework guilds, information on historical techniques, images of period embroideries, and sources for commercial patterns and supplies. The organization of the links pages makes it easy to use, and there is a menu bar at the bottom or the side of each page. The comprehensive annotated booklist is an excellent resource for historical embroiderers that cannot be found anywhere else. I think that this website will be a valuable addition to my collection.

Title: The West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild
Creator: Anahita bint 'abd al-Karim al-Fassi.
Subject: Embroidery
Embroidery—Medieval Guilds
Society for Creative Anachronisms
Description: The website of the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild, a group devoted to the promotion and enjoyment of historical needlework. The website includes articles by guild members, links to websites of interest to the historical embroiderer, images of members' projects, and an annotated booklist.

Publisher: The West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild
Date: 2000-.
Format: HTML
Language: English
Coverage: Historical Embroidery

Medieval / Renaissance Embroidery Page -

This website was created by Hildegarde Stickerin, a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms, a medieval recreation group, for ten years. She had created and maintained several other websites for historical hobbies, such as medieval cooking, and living history. I found her website to be user-friendly and it included some materials that I had not found elsewhere. In addition, Hildegarde's website was one of the first websites available on this particular topic. There is no advertising on this website, and there does not appear to be any bias affecting the information available. The information appears to be reliable and accurate: many of the links are websites that I am already familiar with and whose content I trust as being accurate. The website was last updated May 2000 and all the links that I tried worked. The website included links to websites about particular types of embroidery and images of period pieces and the websites of other historical embroiderers. There was a nice cross-section of period embroidery techniques represented in the links. The unique feature of this website is that Hildegarde had included sections of postings from the Rialto, the main SCA listserv, on embroidery topics, as well as including pertinent links on the same topics. I found the organization of the website to be basic, but user-friendly.

Title: Medieval/ Renaissance Embroidery Homepage
Creator: Hildegarde Stickerin
Subject: Embroidery
Description: A website devoted to historical embroidery, especially that of the medieval and Renaissance period. The website consists mainly of links to websites about historical embroidery techniques and images of period embroidery pieces. The creator of the website has also included excerpts from the Riato listserv on embroidery topics.
Publisher: Hildegarde Stickerin
Date: 1994-1999, with a last update of May 2000
Format: HTML
Language: English
Coverage: Medieval and Renaissance embroidery

Other Resources

Selection Aids

There were very few materials available in this particular category that pertain to historical embroidery. There were no recommendations or anything of that nature to guide me in my decisions. I spent a great deal of time searching the Internet with the Google search engine to find appropriate materials. I had to make the decisions on the usefulness of the items myself, as a subject expert.

The Whys and Wherefores of Selection

I wanted the addition materials that were going to be added to my collection to complement and enhance the materials that I had already selected. I decided that I would include materials that gave historic embroiderers access to images, designs, or information in new and helpful formats. I did include two websites in this portion of the collection, but they are very different from the other websites that I selected, which were primarily collections of links whose focus was the general topic of historical embroidery. The primary focus of these two websites is to offer access to images of period embroideries: one through a privately maintained collection of images of the Bayeux Tapestry, one through a collection of links to textile museum websites.

Medieval Illustrations: CD-ROM and Book by Dover
This is an excellent resource for the historical embroiderer. It has over 400 illustrations that are in the medieval style, and many of them are taken from actual medieval manuscripts or works of art. These images can be used to create embroidery designs. Having the CD-ROM makes it possible for the embroiderer to reduce and enlarge the image on the computer, as needed, and print it out. This item is particularly useful for the historical embroiderer who does not draw or draw well.
Price: $14.95
Publisher: Dover
Publication Date: March 2001
ISBN: 0486999874

History of Embroidery Slide Series—by Educational Media Australia
This item is a series of slide shows illustrating the history of embroidery. It looks like an excellent addition to my collection, but there is one small problem.  There are no images on the website of the actual slides. I would definitely ask for a pamphlet or preview of some sort before investing my library's money in these slides. Each set consists of 34 slides. Although the series goes from ancient times to the present day, I would probably only buy the first three sets: From the Earliest Times to 1400, English Medieval Embroidery, and European Embroidery. If there were enough interest and funds, I would consider purchasing the rest of the series. These slides could be used as an educational resource for the library and the embroidery guilds. Also, if the images are good, embroiderers would be able to use the slides to trace off images or designs for their own use.
Price: $75.00/set, for a total of $125.00
Publisher: Educational Media Australia, at
Publication Date: Unknown
Order No.: 9-77229, 9-77230, 9-77231

Blackwork Embroidery videocassette—Educational Media Australia
This item is a 30-minute video devoted to teaching the basics of blackwork, a historical embroidery technique. I thought that this would be an excellent addition to the collection, either for embroidery guilds to use for group classes, or to circulate in the video collection so that patrons can teach themselves a historical technique. Like the other EMA product, I would certainly contact the company for more information before ordering, to be sure that I was getting a quality item. This company also has other videos on other embroidery and needlepoint techniques, so if this video were successful, I would certainly consider ordering others.
Price: $55.00
Publisher: Educational Media Australia
Publication Date: 1981
Order No.: 7-00058

Bayeux Tapestry Digital Edition Classroom Version-- Dr. Martin Kennedy Foys
This website was created by a professor at Florida State University. It provides a continuous, scrolling edition of the Bayeux Tapestry on-line. It allows you to zoom in and zoom out to view the embroidery better. This would give historical embroiderers interested in the Bayeux Tapestry technique of couching and laid work a chance to get a closer look at the stitching. This website was originally intended to be the precursor to a CD-ROM, but there have been some legal issues that have prevented the publishing of such a thing. This website is password-protected, available for personal and education purposes. I am sure that Dr. Foys would be willing to give library patrons access to the website, but if not, I would direct them to (another excellent Bayeux Tapestry site) for images of the Bayeux Tapestry.
Title: Bayeux Tapestry Digital Edition Classroom Version
Creator: Dr. Martin Kennedy Foys
Subject: Embroidery
Embroidery: Medieval
Bayeux Tapestry
Description: This website gives the user access to an online version of the Bayeux Tapestry, a large embroidery depicting the Battle of Hastings worked in laid and couched stitches.  This website requires a password.
Publisher: English Department, Florida State University
Date: No date listed
Format: The homepage uses HTML. The Bayeux Tapestry section uses Shockwave technology.
Source: The original Bayeux Tapestry is located in Bayeux, France at the Museum of Bayeux.
Language: English
Coverage: The Bayeux Tapestry

Costume and Textile Museums and Societies -
This website has links to costume and textile museums around the world. This is an excellent resource for historical embroiderers as it gives them access to images of period embroideries that have been made available on the Internet. A large link page like this is especially helpful in that it brings together many resources in one place, eliminating the need to keep searching the web for other museum sites. The website has the museums arranged according to country, with addition listing for museum-related topics, for easy access. There is some costuming-related advertising on the site, but it wasn't distracting. Some of the links didn't work, but most of them did. One of the highlights of the various links was the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. On of their online exhibitions, “Flowers of Silk and Gold: Four Centuries of Ottoman Embroidery”. This online exhibition included images of period embroideries (with the ability to zoom in for a closer look), a stitch glossary, information of Ottoman culture, and teacher resources, which included several bibliographies. I think that “Flowers and Gold” exhibition website is an excellent example of the amazing resources that a museum can offer the public through the Internet. I think that the Costume and Textile Museums and Societies website would be a valuable addition to my collection for the resources that it makes available.

Title: Costume and Textile Museums and Societies
Creator: Tara Maginnis, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Costume Designer at University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Subject: Museums: Costume
Museums: Textiles
Societies: Textiles
Description: This website includes links to costume and textile museums around the world.
Publisher: Tara Maginnis, Ph.D.
Date: 1996-.
Format: HTML
Language: Primarily English; some museum names in the language of their country of origin
Coverage: Costume and textile museums around the world

Section 4: Total Cost of the Collection

Total cost of the collection= $1481.86

Section 5: Subject Headings in the Calcasieu

Parish Library Catalog
The resources in this collection that I have created can be found under the subject headings:

Section 6: Index Subject Headings and Library of Congress Subject Headings

I began with the Humanities Full Text index online. The only term that would retrieve any relevant articles was “embroidery”. I also tried “historical embroidery”, “embroidery history”, and “embroidery medieval”, but none of those terms yielded any relevant results. There were only two articles of those retrieved that I felt would have any relevance to the historical embroiderer. Next, I tried the Art Full Text index online. “History of embroidery” yielded 24 results and “embroidery history” yielded 21 results. I felt that the majority of these articles were relevant to the historical embroiderer—the articles discussed period pieces or techniques.

The Library of Congress subject headings that apply to my topic are “Embroidery”, “Embroidery, Medieval”, “Embroidery, Renaissance”, and “Embroidery, Elizabethan”. There are also listings for specific styles, like Assisi embroidery, blackwork embroidery, and gold embroidery. Embroidery subdivides geographically, and there is a listing for history under the geographic subdivision. For example,

--- Sung-Yuan dynasties, 960-1368

There doesn't appear to any subject heading for books that contain a general history of embroidery. If you used the general LC subject heading “embroidery” to search one of the indexes, you would be able to find some information about embroidery; you might luck into something about historical embroidery, especially since there isn't much to be had in the indexes about embroidery in the first place. The “historical embroidery” and “embroidery history” terms turned up much more relevant information, though. I went back and tried some of the more specific LC subject headings as search terms, like “Embroidery, Medieval” and “Embroidery, Renaissance” and found that they generated a short list of relevant results. The LC subject headings seem most useful when you know what period of embroidery you are looking for. LC Subject headings seem least useful when you are looking for general information on the history of embroidery.

(All copyright privileges remain with the author. Copyright 2002 Jessica Siegrist, also known as Scorcha Valdimarsdottir)